Wednesday, April 27, 2011

The Monkees Film Is Released On Criterion Collection DVD

The Monkees' 1968 film, Head, has finally received its due treatment as part of special DVD box set. It was released by Criterion Collection as the first disc of America Lost And Found: The BBS Story box set, a set which also features Easy Rider; Five Easy Pieces; Drive, He Said; A Safe Place; The Last Picture Show; and The King Of Marvin Gardens. Not bad company. (Head was released on DVD through Rhino in 1998, but in the full-screen format.)

Head was the last project that the four Monkees collaborated on (until 1996's Justus). Written by Bob Rafelson and Jack Nicholson (with help from the four members of The Monkees), this film presented a deconstruction of The Monkees television program, as well as a satire of the Hollywood system itself.

It features some of the best music The Monkees recorded, including "Porpoise Song," "As We Go Along," "Can You Dig It," "Daddy's Song" and "Circle Sky." It also features some great cameos, including those by Frank Zappa, Annette Funicello, Sonny Liston, Teri Garr (listed as Terry Garr, in her first feature role) and Jack Nicholson.

"Ditty Diego"

The "Ditty Diego" segment of the film is incredible. First of all, the song "Ditty Diego" completely deconstructs the band, the television program, the myth, and also acknowledges their critics and any shortcomings the band might have had. With lines like, "Hey, hey, we are the Monkees/You know we love to please/A manufactured image/With no philosophies." And this is near the beginning of the film, right away letting the viewer know that this isn't simply a feature-length version of the television program.

On screen - and this wasn't shown properly on the earlier full-screen DVD release - are several television screens, each showing a piece of the film. Most of the images are from segments the viewer hasn't yet seen. Time is certainly played with in this film (as is mentioned in the song - "And when you see the end in sight/The beginning may arrive"). The scene ends with the final screen in place in the bottom left corner. And on that TV is an actual execution. Then suddenly all of the rest of the screens show the execution and that bottom right screen shows a girl screaming.

Is she screaming at the horror of the execution, or is she screaming to see The Monkees? Keep in mind that she herself is on a small television screen, and so her reaction itself isn't real or pure, but filtered through media.

Another thought about that is that because the Monkees are captured on all the television screens, just as the band members felt trapped by their own television image, that when the execution takes over all the screens, it's in one way like the death of the band's squeaky clean image. And perhaps the girl is screaming at the death of that image, which would be a bit prognostic, for most of the band's young fans stayed away from this film upon its initial release.

At any rate, this segment is just one minute of this extraordinary film.

Film Vs. Television

This film makes further references to the television program, poking fun at its own gags and devices. For example, in the middle of the film Mike Nesmith (as a gangster type character) calls Micky Dolenz a dummy, and Micky protests that Davy Jones is the dummy. Peter Tork calms the situation by saying he himself is the dummy, that he's always the dummy. This is a direct reference to his character in the television program - he was always portrayed as the dummy.

And even Bob Rafelson makes fun of himself and his role as director and producer in the scene where Peter punches a woman. He appears on camera and tells Peter that if the scene doesn't work, that he will cut it out. Peter responds that Bob always says that, but never follows through, leaving the questionable footage in. (As a side note, Jack Nicholson and Dennis Hopper also appear as themselves in that scene.)

DVD Special Features

The special features include screen tests of all four band members. Footage from two of those screen tests will be familiar to fans of the television show, for they were included in the show's pilot episode. That is, footage of Mike Nesmith and Davy Jones. But the other footage has not been available before. Not only does it include the individual tests of Peter Tork and Micky Dolenz, but also two scenes (one of which will be familiar from the pilot), in which all four members take party (though only two at a time).

There is also a commentary track by all four members of the band (though each was recorded separately). This includes not just commentary about the film itself, but also about the television program and auditioning for Bob Rafelson and Bert Schneider. Peter even talks briefly about dodging the draft.

As for the film's music, Micky says "Porpoise Song" is one of his favorite songs of all time, and "Circle Sky" was his favorite song to play drums on. During the "Can You Dig It" segment, Mike Nesmith says that Peter Tork's songs are the best in the movie. (Both Peter and Mike talk about flirting - unsuccessfully - with the women who dance in that segment.)

In a 1968 interview in the special features, the Monkees say that their next album will be a double album, with each band member getting to produce a single side. It's interesting to know that was their plan, because soon after this interview was taped, Peter Tork quit the band, and the next album featured only three Monkees (and was not a double album).

Also in the special features are an interview with Bob Rafelson (in which he is extremely candid) and a documentary about BBS, as well as the expected trailers, television spots and still photos.

Frank Zappa

Frank Zappa does a cameo in the film. He was also in an episode of the television program. On the commentary track, Micky talks about how Frank Zappa actually asked him to be the drummer in The Mothers Of Invention, but that Micky's record company wouldn't let Mickey out of his contract.

Head Gets Its Due

Earlier in 2010, the film's soundtrack got the deluxe box treatment from Rhino. It's a three-disc set. The first disc features ten bonus tracks including nearly 23 minutes of the "Ditty Diego" session. The second disc, titled "Outtakes And Rarities," contains mostly previously unreleased material, including some live recordings of Michael Nesmith songs. The third disc contains an interview with Davy Jones from 1968.

Now that Head is part of the Criterion Collection (a series of films that includes work from Ingmar Bergman and Federico Fellini), film enthusiasts and snobs might finally start taking it seriously.

America Lost And Found: The BBS Story box set was released on December 14, 2010. Head was originally released on November 20, 1968. Head was directed by Bob Rafelson, who went on to direct Five Easy Pieces, The King Of Marvin Gardens and Blood And Wine.

(Note: I originally posted this on January 4, 2011 - on another website.)

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